Instant Messaging for Business

instant_messagingInstant Messaging, or IM, can be a boon for any business because it saves time, improves efficiency, and even enables greater employee/customer intimacy. IM allows real-time communication and interaction between two or more people via the Internet, and its use is growing steadily. IM provides users with instant feedback about the presence of online “buddies” or users you know – for instance, whether they are online, busy, or currently offline, what they are currently doing, and whether they are able to successfully receive your communication. Even when one party is not currently connected to the Internet, you can leave offline messages for later viewing. Information sent can be in the form of text, media, and recently even voice and video.

While IM has traditionally been used for quick and instant personal interaction such as chatting between friends and family, people are now finding that it can be effective in business as well. But before diving in and using IM in your organization, be aware that there can be significant risks. For instance, it can expose the company to outside threats such as hackers and viruses, or from problems from within such as employees sharing secret or sensitive information to outside or unauthorized parties. Finally, if not monitored properly, it can be a huge timewaster if employees spend their time chatting with colleagues, family, and friends instead of working.

Here are some tips to get the most out of IM safely and effectively within your organization:

  1. Create guidelines for use. Let employees know of the dangers and risks in using IM. Create policies to allow the use of IM only for certain people within the organization (such as sales) and only during certain times of the day. Ask your IT consultant to configure your network to enact the restrictions you want.
  2. Standardize. Choose one piece of IM software (such as Google Talk, AIM or MSN) and try using it internally first. You won’t be able to prevent some employees from adding buddies outside of work, so make sure to ask them to separate buddies inside the company from those outside. IM software allows you to easily create “buddy lists” to do this.
  3. Know when to use it. IM is a tool that can complement e-mail on one end and voice calls on the other. Consider using e-mail for detailed information sharing or communications such as memos, requests, letters, and proposals that readers need to refer to repeatedly. Consider using voice calls for more intimate interaction, clarifying communication, or in cases when you need to build rapport with the recipient. IM can be something in between the two, such as when you need to ask a quick question, send a short update, or get presence information.
  4. Keep it short. Keep IMs short and direct. In IM, unlike in voice conversations, you don’t need to do go through pleasantries. Unlike email, because of their real-time nature, IMs can be intrusive so be conscious of what the other party is dong and to make it brief and to the point when necessary.
  5. Use your status to your advantage. IM software allow you to set your status (i.e., Busy or Away) to let others know if you are free to take their messages. You can also set your status to Invisible so that you can be aware of others’ presence but be invisible to others.
  6. Set your preferences. Most IM software allow you to control certain behaviors, such as window pop-ups, whether to archive messages or not, whether to startup automatically when you log in, and much more. Explore the features of your software and use them to your advantage.
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